Bucharest, Romania


We initially travelled to Bucharest together in 1997. Born and raised in the US, it was the first time either of us had been anywhere in the former communist bloc. We spent a month zig-zagging across the country on trains, staying with local host families that we met through an international cultural exchange organization, and documenting our experiences through photographs, watercolors, audio-recordings and written texts.

On the way to the airport to go back home, Selena was mugged on a crowded bus. This turned out to be a fortuitous event, as the bystander who came to our rescue, Adina, happened to be a visual anthropologist. With Selena’s passport stolen and no way to leave the country, we accompanied Adina back to her workplace, the Museum of the Romanian Peasant. We fell instantly in love with the museum, which was then under the directorship of the artist Horea Bernea and his charismatic assistant, the ethnologist Irina Nicolau. A year earlier, in 1996, it had been granted the European Museum of the Year award, for its original and imaginative approaches to exhibition.

This chance encounter on the bus led to a wealth of friendships and collaborations in Romania over the following decades. In 1999, Alyssa returned to Bucharest with a year-long Fulbright grant to collaborate with the Museum of the Romanian Peasant, and to research Romanian post-communist ethnographic museums more broadly. In 2000, we were both part of a group exhibition at this museum, with a selection of paintings and texts we produced over the course of our cross-continental postal correspondence that year. Since then, Selena has regularly joined Alyssa during shorter periods of fieldwork in Bucharest, with Alyssa having lived there for longer stretches of time, for her doctoral fieldwork in 2006-7 and during subsequent periods of research.